As Americans pray, its federal congress hunkers down

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The Joel Solomon federal building downtown houses courts and administrative offices, protected by a new law preventing the “impeding or disrupting” of government business at any “restricted” site.

It is appropriate on a national day of prayer, as declared by President Obama, to consider the purpose of prayer and the troublous lives of those who deny prayer and the order of things implied by it.Americans all over the country gathered today around flagposts, in public squares, in meeting rooms and at other events outside of any church to plead with God for the direction of the federal republic and the country (which are, let me suggest, two separate entities). In the Chattanooga area, hundreds gathered in the Ringgold Depot to petition the creator under the theme, “one nation under God.” On Tuesday, officials and businesspeople gathered downtown for a prayer breakfast along the same theme.Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies. Prayer is a privilege of the children of God, and its use is to be directed by the scriptures. Christ held forth the Lord’s Prayer as a special rule of prayer — in other words, an example of the sorts of petitions God’s people should make.

“May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other,” President Obama states in his call to prayer, “and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.”

We have become accustomed to reading between the lines of statements of civil magistrates high and low. So when we read these sentences we immediately feel them to radiate a certain ambiguity, and we want to praise them for their craft, their inauthenticity. But I say nothing more about the proclamation, which is not a prayer but a groundwork for the prayers of U.S. persons and others in the 50 states.

PRAYER IS AN AVENUE OF communication, a crossing of barriers between God and man. That barrier has two components. Man is sinful and God is holy, perfect, sinless and intolerant of sin. Secondly, there is the creator and creature divide. By the gift and grace of prayer, men commune with God and He with them. The more informed a prayer is — the more it repeats God’s words and Spirit.

While the president urges people to maintain an open line of communication with God, he is acting quietly to close off lines communication between his government and the American people. In March he drew another veil to separate the hierarchy from the hoi polloi, to isolate fine buildings and hallways from the rabble, and to lodge into its statute volumes another porcupine whose quills will be the misery of dozens, perhaps hundreds of hapless demonstrative people in years to come. The new incommunicado cloak, HR 347, will take 75 years to overturn if the Congress survives. Its bite will, we suppose, occasion much prayer.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 has the hallmarks of another hilariously misnamed bill in the same fashion as the Patriot Act of 2001.

The two-page law’s name suggests it is a bit of housecleaning or garden-keeping, as if it were intended to clear one’s velvety grass of criss-crossing water hoses or sacks of manure placed too far from the garden bed where they are to be disgorged. The bill is not another operating trifle for the General Services Administration. Rather, the grounds improvement act is a way to keep gadflies, political pests, protesters, demonstrators and critics at bay, to intimidate the Basil Marceaux of the hinterlands.

U.S. House Rep. Chuck Fleischmann voted for the measure.

Three Republicans said “No,” including presidential contender Dr. Ron Paul. (By the way, the Times Free Press story today about Gingrich’s departure in the GOP race fails to mention Dr. Paul, Mitt Romney’s sole challenger. Same omission in the WSJ.) Tennessee Democrats voted against the reel-in-the-waterhose law.

THE LAW WOULD IMPRISON for 10 years “whoever knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so” or who “knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of government business or official functions.”

A restricted building is “any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area” and includes the White House and its grounds, or the vice president’s residence or grounds or any place where the Secret Service is at work at “an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

The congresspersons carelessly threw in a 10-year felony prison sentence for those who lack proper obeisance in the presence of federal officials. Their law imposes a fine, too, but of no specified amount. When the vote came, no doubt, they were tired and wanted to wrap up a day’s work.